Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Copying a directory tree on a Windows system using XCOPY and ROBOCOPY

17th September 2016

My usual method for copying a directory tree without any of the files in there involves the use of the Windows commands line XCOPY and the command takes the following form:

xcopy /t /e <source> <destination>

The /t switch tells XCOPY to copy only the directory structure while the /e one tells it to include empty directories too. Substituting /s for /e would ensure that only non-empty directories are copied. <source> and <destination> are the directory paths that you want to use and need to be enclosed in quotes if you have a space in a directory name.

There is one drawback to this approach that I have discovered. When you have long directory paths, messages about there being insufficient memory are issued and the command fails. The limitation has nothing to do with the machine that you are using but is a limitation of XCOPY itself.

After discovering that, I got to checking if ROBOCOPY can do the same thing without the same file path length limitation because I did not have the liberty of shortening folder names to get the whole path within the length expected by XCOPY. The following is the form of the command that I found did what I needed:

robocopy <source> <destination> /e /xf *.* /r:0 /w:0 /fft

Again, <source> and <destination> are the directory paths that you want to use and need to be enclosed in quotes if you have a space in a directory name. The /e switch copies all subdirectories and not just non-empty ones. Then, the xf *.* portion excludes all files from the copying process. The remaining options are added to help with getting around access issues and to try copy only those directories that do not exist in the destination location. The /ftt switch was added to address the latter by causing ROBOCOPY to assume FAT file times. To get around the folder permission delays, the /r:0 switch was added to stop any operation being retried with /w:0 setting wait times to 0 seconds. All this was enough to achieve what I wanted and I am keeping it on file for my future reference as well as sharing it with you.

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